Posts about Terrorism

News now

Four men — including a former member of the Guyanese parliament who is an imam — have just been charged with plotting to blow up Kennedy Airport in New York. The bottom of this New York Times story says an FBI press conference is scheduled for 1pm. Now if news worked the way it should — and soon will — I’d be able to watch that press conference via a reporter’s camera and modem on that same page. Soon

Davos07: Terrorism

At a session on terrorism at Davos. Liveblogging a few notes….

Shaukat Aziz, prime minister of Pakistan, issues all the usual cant on terrorism: not died to a religion… no borders… root causes…. all that. He complains about profiling and says it “adds to heartburn.”

Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security in the U.S., tries to put a yardstick up to terrorism response, saying that rational people would agree to actions to stop a nuclear bomb that they would not agree to to stop one person from being shot. He focuses on what he calls “high-consequence events.” Stopping these requires inconvenience, some economic impact, and “some adjustment in even how we conceive of some of our liberties — but the key is not to go overboard.” What is high-consequence? what is overboard?

David Cameron, Conservative leader in the U.K., tries a similar act of measurement. “We’ve got to get right the hard-nosed defense of liberty rather than ineffective authoritarianism.” He says that there is a “quantum difference” in terrorism, worse than the days of the IRA and Baader-Meinhof. As a result, he says, “there are some big changes we have to make. It is vital that we get the balance right.”

Carefully countering Aziz on root causes, Cameron says that there is not “a list of demand that will stop Osama bin Laden from doing what he is going to do.” As a result, he says, the first reaction to terrorism must be security. Then one can “drain the swamp” that creates it. He also says that there is an “ideological cause” in the root of terrorism: “a perversion of Islam.” Aziz is shaking his head.

Cameron also says that he is against creating a separate ministry for counter-terrorism but instead wants two ministers in the Home Office, one devoted to police activities and the other devoted to counter-terrorism. Criticizing Blair, he says that “there has been too much focus on law and not enough focus on good administration.”

A Harvard professor asks Cameron whether he agrees with the UK Foreign Office’s advise that government officials should not use the term “war on terrorism” as it “plays into the narrative” of the terrorists and turns them into “martyrs in a holy war.” Cameron says he agrees. Chertoff says he wants to work with moderate members of the Islamic community to understand how they want to describe what is happening. Gijs M. de Vries of the EU attacks the phrase “Islamic terrorism” and says “there is no such thing…. Whether we call this a war or not, let us fight this fight within the bounds of human rights.” Aziz says the average terrorist is sitting in some remote location getting brainwashed and is not reading Foreign Office papers. He emphasizes the rhetoric of recruitment: deprivation, rights, and so on: “Let’s get reality.”

If rhetoric could kill…

Chertoff is asked by an Islamic organization official in the audience whether things are better five years on in the war/struggle/fight on terror and whether the day will come when we will sit down with a terrorist group, as the UK did with the IRA. Chertoff says let’s “get reality,” like Aziz, and recognize that bin Laden’s demand is for us to go back to the 12th century and there is no discussion with that. Cameron says “that is the big difference between the IRA and al Qaeda…. I’m not in any way belitting the IRA and what it did…. But to get this debate right we have to recognize the difference between IRA terrorism and suicide bombing… That is a different sort of terrorism and we would be betraying our populations if we did not recognize that and act on it. ”

The head of Amnesty International now also wants to look at reality and says that the U.S., U.K., and Pakistan have eroded human rights with torture and more. She asks to what extent undermining human rights “feeds the flames of terrorism.” Chertoff says he agrees we should not sacrifice human rights but also not treat every departure from normal process as a catastrophic betrayal of what we believe in. Aziz talks about the checks of having a free press and independent judiciary. Cameron says that of course we must defend freedom but also says that “in order to defeat terrorism, we have to maintain a balance,” citing, for example, how long the government may keep a suspect in jail when “you are trying to break up a complicated plot.”

Tunnel terror

I don’t have nightmares about 9/11. But I do have an ongoing fear that occurs to me occasionally on my daily rides on the PATH train that took me to the World Trade Center that day: I worry about an attack that would flood the tunnels. On a very long list of bad ways to die, that is a leader. Not to come off as too neurotic, but I don’t like heights and thus bridges and I’m not a great swimmer and so though I don’t fear water I know that being plunked into the middle of a river via boat or bridge would not have a happy ending. So getting to work on an island everyday becomes problematic.

Especially today, as The Times reveals a report that says the PATH tunnel system is particularly vulnerable to terrorist attack and flooding.

My first reaction is: Oh, thank you, Times, for revealing our soft underwater belly to the terrorists. My next reaction is: They say the report was — pardon me — leaked because the Port Authority isn’t doing enough to safeguard the tunnels.

The Times says it is withholding details about how attacks could flood the tunnels but then goes right ahead and gives the terrorists the punchline, the worst-case analysis, which is the one they really want: “. . . a bomb that could be easily carried aboard a train could punch a 50-square-foot hole in one side of a tube, possibly breaching both sides of the tunnel. Under that situation, 1.2 million gallons of water a minute could pour into the tunnel, flooding parts of the system in a matter of hours.”

Now I can think about that everytime I ride to work (and I’m damned glad I’m working at home today). As a correspondent and fellow PATH commuter said in email last night: “Jesus Christ. I don’t think the Times means to sound alarmist, but as someone who rides in Hudson River tunnels 2x a day, it’s pretty scary. On the other hand, it’s nothing I don’t already think about twice daily anyway….

The laughing murderers

The Times of London gets a video showing Atta et al having a good laugh before they recorded their murderous wills.

Moral leadership

The former Archbishop of Canterbury speaks out against Islamic violence:

Lord Carey said that Muslims must address “with great urgency” their religion’s association with violence. He made it clear that he believed the “clash of civilisations” endangering the world was not between Islamist extremists and the West, but with Islam as a whole.

“We are living in dangerous and potentially cataclysmic times,” he said. “There will be no significant material and economic progress [in Muslim communities] until the Muslim mind is allowed to challenge the status quo of Muslim conventions and even their most cherished shibboleths.” . . .

Lord Carey went on to argue that a “deep-seated Westophobia” has developed in recent years in the Muslim world. . . .

He said he agreed with his Muslim friends who claimed that true Islam is not a violent religion, but he wanted to know why Islam today had become associated with violence. “The Muslim world must address this matter with great urgency,” he said.